RECIPE. Apr 20, 2010

Layered Banana Pudding

Have you ever been looking through a magazine and stumbled upon an incredible food picture? The kind that makes you drool, your stomach growl and your heart beat just a little faster? This is what I call falling in love at first sight. The ultimate moment is when you realize there is a recipe right beneath the photo, explaining how to replicate this wonderful masterpiece. This is where the naive chef, like myself, can run into trouble. In fact, trouble and I ran into each other face first, like two baseball players running for the same ball and colliding. It involved Oprah, Maya Angelou and Banana Pudding.

I was reading my most recent edition of Oprah magazine and stumbled upon Maya Angelou’s favorite Banana Pudding recipe that included layering the pudding with vanilla wafers and meringue. I was timid to attempt meringue, I have heard it is has a more fickle temperament than the domestic goddess in the sky. The picture hooked me, however, I couldn’t forget the way I felt when I glanced at the photo. Imagining banana, vanilla and sugar playing sweetly on my tongue and bringing happy tears to my eyes. Well, maybe that’s going overboard, but it’s how I saw it. I took a quick glance at the ingredients, realized I had most of them, except the wafers. Easily purchased the wafers and then began reading the recipe while I baked.

Let’s stop here. What is wrong with that last sentence? Oh yes, I didn’t actually read the recipe until I had already started baking. BIG mistake, epic failure. It was only while I was halfway through the recipe that I realized how vague and difficult it was to follow. I made some assumptions and plowed ahead, determined to consume the smooth, sweet glossy banana love. Everything looked like it was turning out well. I thought maybe I had actually become a real baker. Jumping up and down like Pinocchio, and happily shouting “I’m a real boy…er girl…uh woman”. The meringue took forever to whip up, but it did and it looked incredible. I was so proud.

The only setback was it asked for a 2 quart baking dish and I only had a 1 quart and a 3 quart. So I went with the smaller dish. Again, BIG mistake, epic failure. After baking, cooling and refrigerating, the concoction turned out soupy. The pudding didn’t set. I gave it another day and scooped out some of the liquid and it was much better. While it looked terrible, it tasted divine. Just as I had fantasized. I guess looks aren’t everything when it comes to love, it’s all about how it makes you feel. Let’s just skip ahead and I can tell you how you can make this dish with more skill. First, read a recipe thoroughly before beginning. Make sure you are familiar with the lingo and the recipe is clear and thorough. Use the correct size baking dish or larger. Never go smaller. So here is the recipe and some better instructions. Make it if you dare, I’m sure you’ll do much better than I. If any of you have a better recipe or techniques for this dish…please share.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In large saucepan, combine 1/3 cup sugar, cornstarch, and salt. Stir till combined. Mix in milk. Cook custard over medium heat, stirring constantly until thickened and boiling; boil 1 minute, then remove from heat. (Thickening the custard can take 10-15 min so be patient). In small bowl, whisk egg yolks, then whisk in about 1/2 cup hot custard until blended. Pour yolk mixture back into saucepan of custard; cook over medium heat, stirring 2 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in vanilla and butter until blended.

Place vanilla wafers on bottom of shallow 2-quart casserole dish. Top with layer of banana slices, then one of custard. Repeat layering, ending with custard.

In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites and 1/4 cup sugar at low speed until frothy (this can also take a while so be patient). Add cream of tarter; increase speed to medium and gradually beat in remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Beat until egg whites hold stiff peaks (this took me about 10 minutes to attain).

Spoon meringue over hot custard immediately, making sure that meringue touches baking dish on all sides (this prevents it from shrinking). Transfer to oven and bake until golden, about 15-20 minutes. Remove pudding from oven and cool 1 hour. Refrigerate at least 4 hours before serving.